23 & 24 May, New PhD course: Shaping future animal systems

Published on
April 21, 2017

Scientists from across a variety of disciplines at Wageningen University explore, design, conceive and combine potential solutions to create a more sustainable animal sector. Examples of solutions found to enhance one or more aspects of sustainability are: producing meat from broilers with improved welfare (using a slow-growing breed), installing a manure digester on dairy farms to yield bio-energy, producing eggs in a new-housing concept (Rondeel) that improves the welfare of the animal and transparency for consumers, and introducing meatless Monday in campus cafeterias.

Exploring practices through dialogue

However, scientists and researchers don’t work in a vacuum. Our work is embedded in different contexts, whether academic, cultural, political, or socio-economic, to name a few. Alongside the scientists working to develop new and innovative solutions to the problems they perceive, there are farmers, producers, business owners and shareholders, consumers, neighbours and citizens, retailers, manufacturers, intermediaries, regulators, policy-makers, NGO’s, activists, journalists, and, with regards to animal sciences, there’s the animals themselves: livestock, wildlife, the environment. In an increasingly globalised world economy, these actors might even be separated by thousands of kilometres, and come from different backgrounds and cultures. It is thus hardly surprising that they have different perceptions, interpretations and cognitions regarding the problems and potential solutions that animal production faces, including – but not limited to – sustainability. Not only might some of these stakeholders have differing views and ideas about the solutions developed by scientists; they might have different perceptions and interpretations about the problem in the first place, due to different positions, interests, backgrounds, emotions, values, etc.

Furthermore, discussions about animal production – the different perspectives on its future, the diverse problems that stakeholders perceive, and the potential solutions to those problems – are not restricted to classrooms, laboratories or symposia. Newspaper articles discuss and evaluate policy changes, investigative reports uncover new problems, fierce debates about the ethics of animal production erupt on Facebook or Twitter, and scientific journals publish the latest technological developments proposed by the scientific community to address these issues. Therefore, an important part of the discussion about animal production largely takes place in and is accessed through the media; both shaping and being shaped by stakeholders’ perceptions, evaluations and emotions.

How can we navigate this complex and complicated landscape of differing perspectives, interests, values and emotions about different problems regarding animal production? How can we engage in meaningful and constructive dialogue about the problems in and of animal production, across conflicting and conflictive views, in order to find solutions that are relevant and viable in political, economic, socio-cultural, ethical and/or techno-scientific terms, valuing both feelings and facts? How can we transform these disagreements and different perspectives regarding sustainability and animal production, into a productive conversation that addresses these issues and their potential solutions?
It is not just about asking how we solve a problem; it is about questioning what the problem is in the first place, why it’s a problem and for whom it is a problem.

Addressing these questions requires a better understanding of the societal context. Namely, the newly developed technology (the so-called ‘hardware’ of the innovation) by itself does not automatically lead to sustainable development. To make an innovation successful, several people with different backgrounds and perspectives should work together to implement the idea (the ‘software’ of the innovation). In addition, there are numerous formal and informal rules that influence the success of a sustainable innovation (the ‘orgware’ of the innovation). In short, a novel idea only becomes meaningful when it is organized and placed in its social and institutional context, or in other words, when attention is paid to hardware, software and orgware.

Based on theories from communication and innovation sciences, natural scientists and social scientists will together analyse the failures and successes of an introduction of slow-growing breeds in Dutch broiler production. Through meaningful interdisciplinary dialogue, this course seeks to strengthen our understanding of contested issues around animal production, including different perspectives of different stakeholders, and to encourage a constructive engagement with such complexity, in order to enhance our capacity to comprehend these problems and develop, evaluate and implement sustainable innovations.

Conceptual framework

Relevant perspectives

  • Multi-stakeholder perspective
    • Selective perceptions, frames and framing, bridging and bonding
    • Dealing with facts, valuing emotions, valuing dialogue
  • Media perspective
    • The role of media in the framing of animal production systems
    • The role of social media in shaping animal production systems
  • Innovation perspective
    • Distinguishing hardware, orgware and software of an innovation process as well as the different institutional levels that play a role

Learning goals

  1. Understand the complexity of a transition towards sustainable animal systems from different perspectives
  2. Understand different theoretical models to analyse complex animal system cases
  3. Constructively use the theoretical models for contested issues

Target group

This course is intended for PhDs, postdocs, and staff members from across a variety of natural and social science backgrounds, who want to engage with contested issues around animal production through meaningful interdisciplinary dialogue. While the course specifically targets PhD candidates from WIAS and WASS, candidates from other graduate schools and external participants are encouraged to participate as well. Since the aim is to attract a target audience from varied disciplinary backgrounds in order to enrich the dialogue, there is no specific assumed prior knowledge; this course is relevant for beginner as well as experienced researchers.

Teaching methods

Through a series of short presentations by natural and social scientists, participants will be introduced to the study case from different scientific and stakeholder perspectives; while also becoming more familiarized with the theoretical and analytical tools to engage in meaningful and constructive dialogue with and between stakeholders. Students will also partake in a series of exercises (both in smaller groups and the group as a whole) to understand different perspectives – including their own –, analyse and engage in dialogue to discuss the case of study and potential solutions, as well as reflecting on these processes and their outcomes. 

Study material

Five papers will be provided as preparation, about:

  1. The role of animals in a sustainable food system
  2. The role of communication in shaping future animal systems
  3. Sustainability issues of broiler production
  4. The role of Media in framing animal production
  5. The role of Social Media in shaping animal systems

In addition, a list of relevant literature will be provided for those participants who wish to further engage with these topics.

Requirements and ECTS

Individuals who follow the course receive 0.4 ECTS, through preparation for the course, attendance on both afternoons, and active participation in the discussions, exercises and reflections.

Course schedule

23 may: Day 1 Scientific embedding

13:30 - 14:00 Introduction
14:00 - 14:15 Imke de Boer: The role of animals in a sustainable food system
14:15 - 14:30 Noelle Aarts: The role of communication in shaping future animal systems
14:30 - 14:45 Questions
14:45 - 15:15 Exercise 1: Perspective of participants
15:15 - 15:30 Break
15:30 - 15:45 Eddie Bokkers: Sustainability issues of broiler production (intro case study)
15:45 - 15:50 Questions
15:50 - 16:00 Videos: Stakeholders in dialogue
16:00 - 16:15 Marie Garnier Ortiz: The role of Media in framing animal production
16:15 - 16:30 Tim Stevens: The role of Social Media in shaping animal systems
16:30 - 16:45 Questions
16:45 - 17:00 Evaluation

24 may: Day 2 Experiencing a dialogue    

13:30 - 14:00 Noelle Aarts: Communication Strategies
14:00 - 14:15 Videos: Stakeholder perceptions
14:15 - 14:30 Questions
14:30 - 15:30 Exercise 2 (part 1): Dialogue with reflections moments
15:30 - 15:45 Break
15:45 - 16:45 Exercise 2 (part 2): Dialogue with reflection moments
16:45 - 17:00 Evaluation, list with common points for future animal systems


Registration is possible electronically via the WIAS courses and seminars page.

The maximum number of participants is 40, while the minimum is 10. The registration deadline is two weeks before the start of the course; that is, on May 9th, 2017.


WIAS PhDs: € 100 (WIAS will subsidize 75%)
WASS PhDs: € 100
Other PhDs: € 100
WUR staff: € 160
External participants: € 240


Cancellations may be made free of charge until 2 weeks before the start of the course. Cancellation fee of 100 % applies if participants cancel the course less than 2 weeks prior to the course. The organisers have a right to cancel the course not later than 2 weeks before the course starts. The participants will be notified of any changes at their e-mail addresses.

Further information

On course content, please contact Cindy Klootwijk ( or Marie Garnier (